Top Deck manager denies racism at trial

Steve Garrison
Defendant Tyler Black, left, and attorney Emet Rudolfo enter the courtroom on Wednesday at Farmington District Court.

FARMINGTON – A manager at the Top Deck bar denied at trial Wednesday he used racial slurs to refer to Native American patrons.

The manager, Matt Douglas, further testified he did not discourage staff members from contacting police during altercations at the bar. He said he instructed bouncers only to defend themselves if they were threatened.

However, Douglas said he did not train bouncers in how to handle altercations, and he failed to articulate a clear policy for how bouncers should handle disputes.

"It's just solve the situation, safely if possible," Douglas said about the bar's policy. "Try to separate the parties."

He further testified in cross-examination that Top Deck bouncers had knocked patrons out or choked patrons unconscious about six times in his memory.

Tyler Black, a former employee of the bar, testified Tuesday at the trial in a discrimination lawsuit that Douglas used the racial slur "TROGs" when referring to Navajo patrons, which is an acronym for "Total Reliance on Government."

Black further testified on Tuesday that the staff sometimes used "extreme" violence in altercations with patrons, and Douglas discouraged staff members from contacting police.

Douglas and Black testified as part of a discrimination lawsuit filed against several former staff members at the bar. Susan Douglas, a named defendant, owns the Top Deck and an attached liquor store, the Copper Penny, through Susan Inc., a New Mexico corporation. She also testified Wednesday.

Two Navajo brothers — Dustin Curley and Justin Curley — filed the discrimination lawsuit in November 2012. They allege they were beaten up by the bar's staff on St. Patrick's Day 2012 after Justin Curley got into a verbal argument with another patron. Dustin Curley lost vision in his right eye due to the fight, and Justin Curley's nose was broken, according to testimony.

The brothers claim in the lawsuit that the Top Deck staff failed to implement policies and procedures to protect them from harm. They further claim that racial discrimination by the staff created a hostile environment at the bar.

Dustin Curley's wife, Veronica Curley, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She told the jury in testimony Wednesday her husband has suffered long-lasting harm due to the fight.

"He is very paranoid," she said. "He only has one good eye now, and he is afraid that he could hurt the other eye and go completely blind."

Dustin Curley said Wednesday in testimony he was transported to the San Juan Regional Medical Center after the fight and then flown to Albuquerque for further treatment. He said he lost vision in his right eye about a month after the fight. He described it as "an eclipse."

"The entire vision in this eye was black," he said. "Dark as night."

Dustin Curley said he has accrued about $54,000 in medical expenses and now must see a doctor twice a year due to ongoing medical issues.

Black testified Tuesday he was a bartender on the night of St. Patrick's Day. Black admitted he punched Dustin Curley in the fight, but claimed someone had swung at him, and he acted in self-defense.

Justin Curley alleges in the lawsuit that Matt Douglas pushed and punched him in the fight, which caused him to fall to the ground. He said he was on his hands and knees when another man, identified by Black as Drew Jackson, kicked him in the face.

Jackson, also a defendant in the civil trial, made a brief appearance Wednesday in the courtroom. Jackson told the judge he is incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, and he did not wish to attend the trial. Another defendant, Dustin Jacobs, has not appeared to defend himself at the trial.

Matt Douglas said in testimony that Jackson was not employed by the bar on the night of St. Patrick's Day.

"Drew Jackson has not worked for us since July 6, 2011," Douglas said.

Susan Douglas said in brief testimony Wednesday she was not involved in day-to-day operations at the Top Deck.

"My knowledge was limited," she said.

Both the state and defense rested their case Wednesday afternoon. The jury will reconvene this morning for deliberations.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.